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Teaching & Advising > Grading & Assessment of Students

Writing Book Reviews


A book review tells not only what a book is about, but also how successful it is at what it is trying to do. Professors often assign book reviews as practice in careful analytical reading.

As a reviewer, you bring together the two strands of accurate, analytical reading and strong, personal response when you indicate what the book is about and what it might mean to a reader (by explaining what it meant to you). In other words, reviewers answer not only the WHAT but the SO WHAT question about a book. Thus, in writing a review, you combine the skills of describing what is on the page, analyzing how the book tried to achieve its purpose, and expressing your own reactions.

 READING THE BOOK

As you're reading or preparing to write the review, ask yourself these questions:

What is the author's viewpoint/purpose?

The viewpoint or purpose may be implied rather than stated, but often a good place to look for what the author says about his or her purpose and viewpoint is the introduction or preface.

What are the author's main points?

Again, these will often be stated in the introduction.

What kind of evidence does the author use to prove his or her points? Is the evidence convincing?

Why or why not? Does the author support his or her points adequately?

How does this book relate to other books on the same topic?

Is the book unique? Does it add new information? What group of readers, if any, would find this book most useful? Where would you find this information?

Does the author have the necessary expertise to write the book? A review should also indicate the author's professional expertise.

 

 

What are the most appropriate criteria by which to judge the book? How successful do you think the author was in carrying out the overall purposes of the book?

Depending on your book's purpose, you should select appropriate criteria by which to judge its success. Use any criteria your instructor has given you in lecture or on your assignment sheet. Otherwise, here are some criteria to consider. For example, if an author says his or her purpose is explain leadership by using case studies or to help the reader better understand gender differences you should use these purposes to assess if the author met his/her objectives.

In other books, however, authors may argue for their theory about a particular phenomenon. Reviews of these books should evaluate what kind of theory the book is arguing for, how much and what kind of evidence the author uses to support his/her scholarly claims, how valid the evidence seems, how expert the author is, and how much the book contributes to the knowledge of the field.

WRITING THE BOOK REVIEW

Although you should include what you feel is appropriate for explaining your assessment of a book, reviews generally include the following kinds of information.

Most reviews start off with a heading that includes all the bibliographic information about the book. If your assignment sheet does not indicate which form you should use, you can use the following:

Title. Author. Place of publication: publisher, date of publication. Number of pages.

Like most pieces of writing, the review itself usually begins with an introduction that lets your readers know what the review will say. The first paragraph usually includes the author and title again, so your readers don't have to look up to find the title. You should also include a very brief overview of the contents of the book, the purpose or audience for the book, and your reaction and evaluation.

Reviews then generally move into a section of background information that helps place the book in context and discusses criteria for judging the book.

Next, the review gives a summary of the main points of the book, quoting and paraphrasing key phrases from the author.

Finally, reviewers get to the heart of their writing--their evaluation of the book. In this section, reviewers discuss a variety of issues:

  • how well the book has achieved its goal,
  • what possibilities are suggested by the book,
  • what the book has left out,
  • how the book compares to others on the subject,
  • what specific points are not convincing, and
  • what personal experiences you've had related to the subject.

It is important to carefully distinguish your views from the author's, so that you don't confuse your reader.

Like other essays, book reviews usually end with a conclusion which ties together issues raised in the review and provides a concise comment on the book.

There is, of course, no set formula, but a general rule of thumb is that the first one-half to two-thirds of the review should summarize the author's main ideas and at least one-third should evaluate the book. Check with your instructor. 

Caution about Plagiarism. It is easy to plagiarize a book review even if you dont intend to. My advice is to not read any reviews of your book. Trust yourself to write the review without research. It is too easy to borrow ideas or words from someone else. If you are caught plagiarizing you will be given a 0 for the grade and will be reported to the Provost and Dean of Students offices.

This information was adapted from the University of Indiana web site.

 

"Study is a specific kind of experience in which through careful observation of objective structures we cause thought processes to move in a certain way . . . When done with concentration, perception and repetition, ingrained habits of thought are formed."
-Richard Foster; Celebration of Discipline